For high school seniors, the arrival of spring often means that one chapter of their lives is ending. In late May and early June, eager teenagers don silk gowns and tasseled caps as they are awarded their diplomas at ceremonies across the country, but on the campus of New Life Children’s Center, graduation day takes on a deeper meaning.

New Life is a residential treatment center tucked among the trees in the Texas hill country. Much like the landscape it’s built on, the girls at New Life have often encountered numerous valleys in their own lives, such as years of neglect and abuse that have led to significant trauma. New Life serves as a place to be encouraged through the physical, emotional and spiritual care needed to truly heal. And, perhaps one of the most defining cornerstones of the healing process at New Life is the opportunity for girls to continue their education through the on-site Trinity Charter School. The teachers and staff at New Life and TCS work each and every day to build a foundation for girls to stand upon as they prepare for the bright futures they will live beyond treatment. This May, two seniors took their spots on the stage to graduate from TCS, yes, but also to reflect on their time spent at New Life, what they learned in the classroom and beyond and what they will take with them as they set out to achieve their dreams. Below is the graduation speech of one of those seniors.

This day I reflect on my true dedication to success. Today I am standing here a year early based on my determination to continue to improve my life no matter the circumstances.

When I first got into CPS, I remember telling my mom that I would end up getting behind in school and that I was just going to drop out since the placements I was being sent to had no schooling. I remember being angry at the world and on the verge of giving up on everything. Until one day, it hit me that what I am going through right now is not forever, that every setback is not negative. My setback has brought more good than it has bad. I jumped from placement after placement losing more and more hope throughout each move. I was wondering what I would do with my life now. Who am I going to run to now since everyone isn’t a tap away?

Before this happened, things were pretty normal. When CPS started, I was afraid of being alone and doing this all by myself. It was hard not having my mom to look up to anymore. It was hard to switch from making my own choices to being told when I can shower, when to use the bathroom, when to eat and when to sleep. But without getting a taste of what other worlds feel like and what the pain of others around you feels like to let me know that I’m not alone has shaped me into the person that I am today. It has made me realize that setbacks are not the end of the world. When you have so much time to yourself and you are away from all of the things that got you into trouble, you start to think. And when you start to think, you think of ways to change and become a better person. That is what I had to come to terms with.

I am thankful for everything that has happened to me this past year along with everything that I have learned along the way. I am thankful for all the teachers in my life that have wanted the best for me and wanted to see me grow, to use all my knowledge to make a change. I am thankful for my family and friends for staying true to me no matter the distance and not forgetting me. I am thankful for choosing to stop being against change and experiencing the other things that life has for me. I am thankful for deciding to stop being against help from others because without help I would have not made it this far.

Everything that happens always happens for a reason, and I couldn’t be more grateful for all the doors that have opened for me. When you truly decide to set your mind to something, beyond the sky becomes your limit. I learned to never let anyone, no matter how much they mean to me, get in the way of my success. People aren’t forever, but your goals are.

And last, I want to say a big thank you to everyone who has gotten to know me and has been by my side to this very day. I can’t wait to see what the future holds for me.

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